Wildlife disease ecology from the individual to the population: Insights from a long-term study of a naturally infected European badger population
Journal of Animal Ecology
Wiley for British Ecological Society
© 2017 The Authors. Journal of Animal Ecology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Ecological Society. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Long-term individual-based datasets on host-pathogen systems are a rare and valuable resource for understanding the infectious disease dynamics in wildlife. A study of European badgers (Meles meles) naturally infected with bovine tuberculosis (bTB) at Woodchester Park in Gloucestershire (UK) has produced a unique dataset, facilitating investigation of a diverse range of epidemiological and ecological questions with implications for disease management. Since the 1970s, this badger population has been monitored with a systematic mark-recapture regime yielding a dataset of >15,000 captures of >3,000 individuals, providing detailed individual life-history, morphometric, genetic, reproductive and disease data. The annual prevalence of bTB in the Woodchester Park badger population exhibits no straightforward relationship with population density, and both the incidence and prevalence of Mycobacterium bovis show marked variation in space. The study has revealed phenotypic traits that are critical for understanding the social structure of badger populations along with mechanisms vital for understanding disease spread at different spatial resolutions. Woodchester-based studies have provided key insights into how host ecology can influence infection at different spatial and temporal scales. Specifically, it has revealed heterogeneity in epidemiological parameters; intrinsic and extrinsic factors affecting population dynamics; provided insights into senescence and individual life histories; and revealed consistent individual variation in foraging patterns, refuge use and social interactions. An improved understanding of ecological and epidemiological processes is imperative for effective disease management. Woodchester Park research has provided information of direct relevance to bTB management, and a better appreciation of the role of individual heterogeneity in disease transmission can contribute further in this regard. The Woodchester Park study system now offers a rare opportunity to seek a dynamic understanding of how individual-, group- and population-level processes interact. The wealth of existing data makes it possible to take a more integrative approach to examining how the consequences of individual heterogeneity scale to determine population-level pathogen dynamics and help advance our understanding of the ecological drivers of host-pathogen systems.
The study is supported by the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. M.J.S. was supported by NE/M004546/1. J.L.M. research was motivated by NE/M010260/1 and currently supported by NE/L007770/1.
This is the final version of the article. Available from Wiley via the DOI in this record.
Published online 16 August 2017
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